The big bellies of honey ants serve as “living larders” for their entire colony. (A colony is a group of ants.)
 
Larders (also called pantries) are cool areas where food is stored. Honey ants dig their nests deep underground, where the temperature inside the nest is cooler than it is outside. 
 
The honey ants that hang from the roofs of these underground nests are called repletes. During the rainy season, other ants feed repletes nectar gathered from flowers. Slowly, the bellies of the repletes swell to the size of grapes.
 
In the dry season, repletes are “drained” to provide food for the rest of the colony. Other ants drain a replete by stroking its antennae. When its antennae are stroked, the replete will regurgitate—throw up—the liquid in its belly. Other ants eat the liquid themselves or take it to other members of the colony. 
  • The dark, rectangular patches on the belly of a replete are actually the hard exoskeleton plates that normally protect the ant’s abdomen. It is the clear connective tissue that distends the replete’s body.
  • Honey ants are a sweet treat! Their bodies are bite-sized balloons of sugary syrup that serve as delightful delicacies for cultures indigenous to arid climates, such as Aboriginal Australians. Western naturalists, such as filmmaker David Attenborough and “The Bug Chef” David George Gordon, also attest to their “marvelously sweet” flavor.
  • Many insects store sweet liquid for later use. Honeybees, for instance, store liquid in their combs. Honey ants, however, are the only insects to store the liquid in their own bodies.
Aboriginal Australian
Noun

people and culture native to Australia and its surrounding islands. Also called Aborigine.

abundant
Adjective

in large amounts.

antenna
Noun

one of a pair of thin, moveable sensory organs on the heads of insects and some other organisms.

arid
Adjective

dry.

bloated
Adjective

swollen or puffed-up.

caste
Noun

specialized type of social insect that carries out a specific function in a colony, such as a worker, drone, or queen.

Noun

all weather conditions for a given location over a period of time.

colony
Noun

group of one species of organism living close together.

Noun

area of land that receives no more than 25 centimeters (10 inches) of precipitation a year.

Noun

period of greatly reduced precipitation.

dry season
Noun

time of year with little precipitation.

earth
Noun

soil or dirt.

fat
Noun

material found in organisms that is colorless and odorless and may be solid or liquid at room temperature.

Noun

material, usually of plant or animal origin, that living organisms use to obtain nutrients.

Adjective

characteristic to or of a specific place.

larder
Noun

room or place where food is kept.

nectar
Noun

sweet plant material that attracts pollinators.

nourishment
Noun

substance that provides materials or nutrients for life and growth.

Noun

substance an organism needs for energy, growth, and life.

predator
Noun

animal that hunts other animals for food.

rainy season
Noun

time of year when most of the rain in a region falls.

regurgitate
Verb

to vomit or throw up undigested or partly digested food.

replete
Noun

caste of worker ant with distendible crop (organ for food storage) in which liquid is stored for later use by the colony.

scarce
Adjective

rare.

specialize
Verb

to study, work, or take an interest in one area of a larger field of ideas.